By Daniel Skora
The story, as it begins, seems a familiar one. A powerful man with a public persona, personal appetites, and a wife and family tucked safely back home has a rather naïve young woman brought up to his hotel room. The man is Robert Aarons, a senator who’s been out barnstorming the country in search of support for a possible run for the presidency. While giving a speech to a ballroom crowded with politicos, he spots a waitress in the midst of her serving duties pause for a moment to give his speech a listen. Intrigued that she would have an interest in what he has to say, he asks an aide to seek her out and bring her to his room.
The woman is Iris Malloy, a single mother of two who lives with her sister. To date, her life has been uneventful, so meeting a person of such distinction is something special. Iris is overwhelmed, to say the least, and the senator, being kind and genuinely interested in her as a person, overlooks her awkwardness. Before long, the two begin sharing with each other more than would be expected of persons from such differing backgrounds.
Thus begins “The Harassment of Iris Malloy”, the current presentation and season closer for Detroit Public Theatre. Before this 80-minute one act is over, it will make forays into topics as varied as: the media, fame, personal pursuits versus duty, parenting, and, of course, politics.
If the senator expects his four hour meeting with Iris to be kept private, he’s going to have a difficult time. The press has been watching and there’s even a video of Iris leaving his room. But what took place in that room is just the first of a couple of major twists that make this drama anything but predictable.
Playwright Zak Berkman notes that the germination for his play began while watching a rehashing of the sex scandal during the Clinton presidency. But Senator Aarons (John Lepard) will prove to be no Bill Clinton and Iris Malloy (Alysia Kolascz) no Monica Lewinsky. When Sticker (Ned Baker), a go-between for the agent who wants Iris to tell her story, and Cyd (Sarah Winkler), Iris’s sister who thinks there’s nothing wrong with stretching a few of the details of what went on when Iris was with the senator, enter the picture, it seems less an harassment issue and more of one of seduction, with Iris being pulled in several directions.
The action of the play shifts back and forth between the meeting in the senator’s suite, and the events that happened afterwards, giving the play a past and present sensibility. Oddly enough, it’s everything that happens after the meeting that carries most of the play’s action, with the actual meeting between Iris and the senator grinding slowly along until an unexpected disclosure sends it in another direction. The play actually begins where it ends, with Iris looking in on her two sleeping children in a scene that forms the last of the play’s plot twists.
The set, design by Monika Essen who also does costume and prop design, is a split-stage affair with the senator’s room on one side and the Malloy residence on the other. Shifts between the two are accomplished by changes in the lighting, design by Mike Durst. DBT audiences are used to ever-changing seating arrangements, and this show has yet another unique one, with the staging area dividing the Allesee Rehearsal Hall in two and the audience seated on either side looking across at each other. Sound design is by Frannie Shepherd-Bates and Tim Franquist.
“The Harassment of Iris Malloy” is a rolling World Premiere directed by Geoff Button. It features some fine performances and contains an interesting take on the political sex scandal theme that’s become an all too familiar one. It runs through May 28th. Tickets are available online at www.detroitpublictheatre.org, by phone at 313.576.5111, and in person at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra box office. Performances of Detroit Public Theatre take place at the Robert A. and Maggie Allesee Rehearsal Hall inside the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center located at 3711 Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit.